By Amy Reyes
If you haven’t noticed the larger-than-life posters promoting Miami Libre hanging from the Adrienne Arsht Center featuring a barely-dressed dancer draped around a hunk with a mysterious stare, well, you just haven’t been paying attention. This musical is the Arsht Center’s first foray into production and they’ve gathered a unique crew of talent to create a show that explores the experience of countless Cubans (including many members of the cast and crew) who longed for the freedom they could find in Miami, and once there, find themselves still struggling to define themselves in their new environment.
What holds it all together is the music, provided by local timba band Tiempo Libre under the musical direction of Jorge Gomez, who creates a soundtrack replete with variety of classic Cuban rhythms. The musical follows the lives of Pepito and Maria, whose childhood love is cut short when Maria defects to Miami to escape the Castro regime. Maria, played by Cuban-born actress and dancer Everlayn Borges, is reunited with Pepito years later after he makes it to Miami on a raft.
The story hits close to home with Borges, who lost her own father in the Straits of Florida. As Pepito makes his oddessy through the Atlantic, Borges also incarnates the role of the Virgin of the Caridad del Cobre, the patroness-saint of Cuba, who gives Pepito the strength to continue with his voyage.
When Pepito, played by native Miamian and New School of the Performing Arts graduate Jencarlos Canela, finally makes it to Miami, he finds a struggle of a different kind as he works in all kinds of menial jobs unable to develop his true passion: music. Canela put his plans to promote his new album produced by Rudy Perez on hold so he could play the role of Pepito. "What makes this musical stand out is the story," says Canela, "it’s a very typical immigrant story, and anyone who has ever had to leave where they are from and start their life all over will relate to it."
Directed by Toby Gough and staged on sets created by Alejandro Muguerza of Miami-based production company LeBasque, the John S. and James L. Knight Center will be transformed into a nightclub with cabaret-style seating and drink service throughout the performance, making the audience both spectator and participant. The set will transform the auditorium into 1950s Cuba and modern-day Miami (with an interlude in a raft), where Pepito’s story unfolds in song and dance.
The steamy dance numbers choreographed by Rolando Ferre, including a guaguancó dance-off between Pepito and Maria, and the catchy rhythms of Tiempo Libre promise to get the audience involved. The show closes with the cast pulling (willing) audience members onstage to dance the final number street-party style.